This is a short one but I took the advice of Kurt Willems and Rod Stafford and grabbed a copy of The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray. Touted by both as a good primer on the Anabaptist world, I am excited to dig deeper. While the introduction is quite slow, and seems to be quite self referential (something I am already concerned about in the Mennonite world; being an outside trying to break in) it does provide a good start.
I am struck by the presentation of Mennonism in a few ways. Murray, and others I have read, put Mennonism often in the terms of TRADITION rather than DENOMINATION and I am not sure the distinction. I suppose that what is meant by this is the elements of Mennonism that are also cultural rather than purely theological/philosophical. Many of the people I have met and read have long genealogies and familial roots in Mennonism that influence more than thought and worship but dress, food, and community life in profound ways. I still wonder the true distinctions and if this is not a self-serving term. Wouldn’t all denominations be able to lay claim to the Tradition rather than Denomination title? Each microcosm carries with it cultural associations and customs. I would argue that very few, if any, denominations are purely theological constructions and that all cross over into the tradition category rather quickly.
However, I do not mean to be purely critical. For the Mennonism I have participated in so far is made better due to the view of tradition rather than denomination. Things are viewed and approached from this angle and in so doing carry an awareness of history, family and community that is rare. Decisions, thought and action are decided based upon how it works with the past, how it impacts the people, the thought of the ancestors and how it will be rolled out for the body. Decisions are not purely intellectual or theological, with little thought for praxis. Tradition views things in a larger picture, knowing how they influence people while Denominations often view things only theologically (easily disconnected from the human/community and praxis elements). So this is not a slam but a praise. It is refreshing to be a part of community that sees itself as an extended cultural family rather than a loose collection of people around an obtuse set of ideas. Mennonism is centrally connected to WHO YOU ARE not what you believe. My only concern is that pressure is easily placed on who you are historically/genealogical rather than who are in Christ. This is the double-edged sword of tradition.
The second response I have is my attraction to Mennonism as an active response rather than a passive belief. Mennonites have a long and deep tradition of putting their money where they mouth is. The ramifications of early Anabaptist thought was felt physically and forced a deep response. Persecution was real and the theology was forced to be really believed not just lightly held. Fervent belief stands up against persecution. And that persecution bred a deep connection to what was true and important. Anabaptists actively stood for their beliefs and fled, suffered, moved, hid, struggled, and bled for the core beliefs. Thank God I am alive now and able to dabble.
The early ideas were revolutionary (hence the harsh and violent response to them). They responded to wars, theology, and belief with wholehearted and zealous (used purely positively here) faith. They had to. This is so meaningful for me. Growing up in the Vanilla Evangelical world of No Harm-No Foul faith, where there was little to not impact of thought/faith on one’s self or the world around them, I get excited about a faith that is based on action. Where the tradition is one of the knowledge of suffering, the belief in truth, and the commitment to unpopular opinion acted out with compassion.
So, not as short as I thought. Stay tuned as I read and respond to The Naked Anabaptist. Please send more book or online reading recommendations.
Check out Stuart Murray’s work at The Anabaptist Network.